Facebook debuts AI tool to tackle revenge porn

A new support service has also been launched to tackle the spread of intimate images without consent.

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Revenge porn, otherwise known as the sharing of intimate and often sexual images without consent, is a problem which has exploded in severity with the growth of the Internet.

Before the web, images taken for the benefit of a partner, if shared, would only reach a small audience if exposed. However, images now taken and uploaded online can expand to reach a global audience in moments, leading to devastating and long-term consequences for victims.

While these images can be reported across social media, it can take time to hunt them down and delete them -- and there is always the possibility these graphic images have been saved and can be re-published at will.

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On Friday, Facebook's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis said the company is looking at new ways to tackle revenge porn, and while these images are removed once they are reported, it is now not enough to rely on feedback alone.

The tech giant, which ironically has been blasted again and again for its own lackluster privacy and data protection practices, says that photo recognition technology has been used in recent years to record revenge porn and to prevent these images from being shared across the social network.

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Now, a new tool, bolstered by artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and machine learning (ML), has been created to hopefully stem the flow of revenge porn across Facebook and Instagram.

"By using machine learning and artificial intelligence, we can now proactively detect near-nude images or videos that are shared without permission on Facebook and Instagram," Davis says. "This means we can find this content before anyone reports it."

A member of the Community Operations team has been trained to focus on reviewing the content found by the tool. If revenge porn is found and the content breaches Facebook's Community Standards, the image is deleted and "in most cases" the account which shared the media will be disabled.

Facebook's rules say that "to protect victims and survivors, we remove images that depict incidents of sexual violence and intimate images shared without permission from the people pictured." 

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The software is an addition to a pilot program which gives users the option to submit images to Facebook to prevent them from being shared. The idea of proactively submitting explicit images of yourselves to a social network to prevent their upload might seem counterintuitive -- and for some of us, frankly turns the stomach -- but victims and support organizations have given Facebook enough positive feedback to expand this pilot in the coming months.

"While this pilot has been subject to some criticism, our research with victims and feedback from organizations indicates this was an option victims generally wanted, and they wanted it built into the reporting process more specifically," Facebook says. "To date, use of the program has been relatively low in part because many victims don't know the program exists. And understandably, many victims are concerned about sending images to people they don't know, so we are also working to better explain and clarify the process and safeguards in place."

If you believe you may become a victim of revenge porn, or already have become so, the social networking giant has also launched "Not Without My Consent," a victim support hub which includes advice and steps to take if these situations occur. 

A revenge porn support toolkit, created in partnership with organizations including the UK's Revenge Porn Helpline, the US Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, and Brazil's SaferNet, will also be made available in the coming months. 

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